A visit with Hector Cole
Back while I was living in London I had the opportunity to visit and take a short class with Hector Cole. Hector is one of the most prominent blacksmiths in the UK specializing in creating archeologically correct pieces using tools and techniques that reach way back into history. He’s particularly well known for forging a wide variety of arrowheads. On this recent trip I’d gotten in contact with him to see if I could visit and pick up a few things to work with over the coming winter. I’ve been steadily moving in the direction of making my own arrows and most recently taking a crack at making my own longbow as well. Happily he remembered me and welcomed me on. I rode the train over first thing in the morning and met him at the station in Chippenham just a short ride from his shop. We took a little detour by his house as he had something he thought might be of interest- a recent acquisition he said. Waiting in the reception of his house he ducked upstairs and returned with a long white box. Opening it to reveal the contents there was a very old arrow. The point was rusted and corroded but still retained much of the detail. The shaft was intact and there were even parts of the fletchings remaining. This he explained was the oldest known arrow for the English longbow. He estimated it as being from around the year 1400! The next closest is the Westminster Abbey arrow that’s dated at around 1437 but this one is in much finer condition. It was found in the wall of an old barn he said. It will soon be loaned out to a museum collection for display. Perhaps the Wallace Collection. Details are still being sorted out on that front. Still it was amazing to see such a thing. Hope I will get a chance to see it displayed in a museum at some point.
Heading on over to the shop we had a nice cup of tea while I wandered around and re-aquainted myself with the place. Over in the corner he had leaning a selection of yew staves that hadn’t been there last time. “A few warbows in there I’m hoping” he said. After a bit I was itching to see what stock he had on hand. He pulled everything out and we worked our way through it all. I had wanted to get a nice cross section of things to work with. He helped me select a nice grouping of arrowheads. We tallied up and then I added just another piece or two spending almost as much as I’d brought. His work is beautiful but it’s also priced appropriately considering his skill and experience. I won’t be going off and shooting these all willy nilly to be sure.
Here are a couple of photos of what I picked up.
He had been working on making some heavy war bodkins and offered to demonstrate for me. I’d seen him make a needle point bodkin and a saxon point last time but this was the first time seeing a heavy war bodkin being made. It’s made from 1/2″ stock and ends up being a massive piece of steel. The shafts I use have been 11/32″ in diameter. I’ll be stepping up to 3/8″ for some of these fellows I purchased. The heavy war bodkin goes on a shaft 1/2″ in diameter. It’s as thick as your thumb and 30″ long. Intimidating to say the least.
He graciously allowed me to shoot some photos as he worked. There’s the idea that when you have a chance to observe to learn the last thing you should be doing is trying to snap photos. O’Brien sensei used to say that you should observe as if your life depended on it. Steal with your eyes. I ended up splitting time in observing and snapping a few photos. I only stole with my eyes a little bit. Here you go…
The amazing thing to me is that it happens so quickly. Less than 5 minutes. Each blow of the hammer is specific. None wasted. Many years of practice makes it all look so easy. I’ve tried and found that this is not the case. The arrowhead is quenched and tempered and then a brief visit at the grinder to clean and pollish. Done and dusted.
We ventured across the street to the local pub for lunch. A pint and a chicken and bacon sandwich. It was time for me to work my way back to London. Precious artifacts tucked away in my bag. Incredibly happy to have had this chance and very grateful for the time and patience Hector bestowed upon me. I hope I can return again at some point.
To see a bit more of his work, including a couple of youtube videos of the process, please go to Hector’s website here.